You only get one chance to make a first impression. It’s as true for a franchise business as it is for a job candidate or a first date. That’s why a successful grand opening event is such an important part of introducing a new franchise location to a local community.
Managing local grand opening events can be a challenge when you operate in a distributed marketing model, as a franchise business does. As a corporate franchise marketer, you want to support the success of the new location and ensure brand consistency. At the same time, you want to provide your local team with the flexibility to create an event that resonates with their local market.
If you’re wondering what the recipe is for a successful grand opening event, here are some essential ingredients recommended by those on the franchise front lines.
There is plenty of work to be done preparing for a grand opening well before the date of the event is even set. For burger franchise Wayback Burgers, it all starts with franchisee training.
“We have several layers of training,” explains Jade Giamattei, consumer marketing manager for Jake’s Franchising, the Wayback Burgers franchisor. “It starts with a full week at Wayback University, meeting with each department in our corporate office.”
As one of the nation’s fastest-growing burger franchises, Wayback has had plenty of experience with grand openings, having opened 20 to 30 new locations annually over the past several years.
After Wayback University, says Giamattei, it’s time for in-restaurant training to help a new franchisee get a feel for the day-to-day workflow. This is followed by a soft opening, which provides an opportunity to deal with the typical confusion and glitches that come with opening a restaurant – without testing the local team under the glare of the grand opening spotlight.
During the preparation phase, franchise marketers recommend reaching out to the local community to establish connections that will contribute to the success of the franchise long after the grand opening banners are taken down. Among the ways a franchisee can do this are to:
- Get involved with the local chamber of commerce, a great resource for local networking and visibility.
- Partner with a local radio station or fire station to engage the local community.
- Identify a local charitable organization to support, which will show you are committed to contributing to the community.
“Our franchisees have had great success in using their grand openings as a way to give back to the local community,” says Giamattei. “They donate back a percentage of their sales from opening weekend to the charitable organization of their choice. Wayback adjusts franchise royalties off the monetary donation granted to the charitable organization during these fundraisers as a way of showing support for the franchisee and for the local community our brand is now a part of.”
Local advertisements, flyers, and postcards are common communication vehicles for promoting grand opening events. To ensure brand consistency, corporate templates can be created for these materials that lock down key messages, logos, colors, and other elements. At the same time, you can provide image options to enable local teams to customize a piece so it is more likely to connect with their local audience. Specific location information, grand opening dates, and hours also can be customized at the local level. If you use a centralized marketing portal to manage the assets, much of the location information can be auto-populated from the franchisee’s system profile data.
When sending postcards, you can simplify the process for the franchisee by giving them the ability to obtain mailing lists for their surrounding area. If your business has broad appeal, Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) from the USPS is a cost-effective method to deliver your mailer to every home in the specified area. If your business caters to a select demographic, enable your local team to purchase targeted lists.
Public relations is another effective way to generate awareness of a new franchise in a local market. But PR can be expensive for a franchisee just starting out. That’s why Wayback engages a PR firm at the corporate level that also helps support local PR efforts. Using the same firm for national and local PR also ensures consistent branding and messaging across national and local markets.
4) Selectable on-site items
Sometimes there are local restrictions on what materials a particular site can display. If you provide a pre-made grand opening kit that includes a banner or a yard sign, for example, those materials will go to waste if they are not permitted at that location. Instead, try offering a range of materials so the local team can order the pieces they can actually use.
5) Promotional products
Consumers love giveaways at grand opening events. Provide your franchisees with a selection of branded items, so they can apply their knowledge of the local market and choose the items that will make the biggest impact.
Says Wayback’s Giamattei, “Franchisees are busy. Particularly in the lead-up to a grand opening, they are busy planning and don’t always have the opportunity to order promotional products well in advance. To help them, we recently implemented a marketing resource e-commerce site that enables them to order almost all of their marketing assets from one system with ease.”
6) Financial commitments & budget management
For long-term marketing, most franchises require franchisees to contribute a certain percentage to a national advertising fund. Increasingly, franchisors require funds be set aside specifically for local market advertising, such as print ads, local TV, radio, billboards, or direct mail.
In a report issued earlier this year, BIA Advisory Services suggested franchise brands are shifting their marketing spend from an over-investment in national-level campaigns to an increased emphasis on local, with national brands expected to increase their local advertising investments from $61 billion in 2016 to $74 billion by 2021.
This trend of moving marketing focus from national to local mirrors what Vya has been observing with our franchise clients. This trend is driving the demand for localized marketing solutions that allow national brands to develop and maintain brand integrity while gaining the benefits of localizing their brands at scale.
“We have a strong marketing mix,” says Giamattei. “We work with a third party for media buying, including TV, digital, and print. And our franchisees can leverage a lot of the systems we have in place. So we require they invest a minimum of $5,000 on their grand opening, to ensure they are putting forth a strong marketing effort for their all-important grand opening.”
Whether you provide corporate funding for grand opening events or you require a certain level of spending by your local team, it can be a big time-saver to manage the dollars in the same system used to manage and order the marketing materials. As materials are ordered, the event budget automatically decrements by the amount spent.
“We help our franchisees execute their local campaigns by making customizable artwork templates available through a marketing resource management site configured specifically for our franchisees,” says Giamattei.
7) Simplify execution & apply lessons to future events
Successful grand opening events are critical to launching sales at a new location. In a distributed marketing model, ensuring brand consistency while still enabling local customization of the event can be daunting.
Marketing resource management systems can simplify the execution – from the creation, customization, and ordering of materials to budget management. In addition, by managing the event through a system, you can track data on which campaign elements truly drive success and use that knowledge to guide future launches.
After the event
The success of a grand opening isn’t measured only by the amount of sales rung up during the event. The best measure of success is how the business is doing six to 12 months or more down the road.
“There’s a lot of work to be done following a grand opening,” says Giamattei, “especially in the first year, the most fragile time for a new franchise location.”
An ongoing marketing program is essential for engaging customers in a new local market. And the more turnkey and easy to execute, the better the results will be for your local franchisee and your brand.
Another important ingredient for long-term success is having dedicated support staff to guide your franchisees every step of the way. As a franchisor, you can offer valuable advice based on what has worked well in other markets.
Giamattei adds that it’s important to listen to customer reactions – in person and on social media. “Beyond the numbers of opening weekend, we want to know: Did the community buy into our concept for the long haul?”
By simplifying the mechanics of event execution and providing your franchisees easy-to-access tools, resources, and dedicated support, you will not only make your grand openings truly “grand,” you will earn that essential local community buy-in that will put your new franchise locations in the best position for long-term success.